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Art at its heart
Walter Hussey, Dean of Chichester, was one of Britain’s greatest art collectors in the last century.
His sure feel for contemporary painting and sculpture led him to acquire work by the likes of John Piper, Graham Sutherland, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.
With an eye on posterity, he donated the collection to Chichester provided it was displayed at Pallant House.
Hussey, who had been Dean since 1955, made his generous gift on retiring from the Church in 1977.
At the time, Pallant House was owned by Chichester District Council and had been used as offices since 1919.
Hussey was undoubtedly right to think this handsome Georgian building, which is Grade I-listed, should be seen by a wider public, and it has been for the past 30 years.
The museum opened in 1982, with Hussey’s gift forming the basis of a permanent collection.
It was added to in 1989 by a gift from property magnate Charles Kearley, whose donation included work by Cezanne, Piper and Ben Nicholson. Since 1985 Pallant House has been run by a trust.
Born in 1909, Hussey came from Northampton and was a vicar there for 18 years, after being educated at Oxford and ordained.
A wealthy man, he commissioned music by Benjamin Britten as well as many works of art in his home town.
One of the reasons he moved to Chichester was almost certainly the emphasis on art in the cathedral, which he augmented.
At Chichester he commissioned Graham Sutherland to paint an altarpiece in the cathedral and asked Leonard Bernstein to compose the Chichester Psalms.
He also worked with John Piper, William Walton, Ceri Richards and Marc Chagall among others. He died in1985.
The biggest controversy in the history of Pallant House came when a new wing was opened in 2006.
It was in an unabashedly contemporary style and won the Gulbenkian Prize for architecture in 2007, but not everyone liked it.
Historian Paul MacDougall says in a new book that many local people regard it as being out of keeping with the heart of Georgian Chichester. And he adds, “Even less pleasing is a rearward extension that overshadows its Georgian neighbours.”
Like it or not, architect Sir Colin Wilson was also responsible for another hefty donation of high-class art to the gallery. His generous gift included art by Sickert and Lucien Freud.
And the Gulbenkian judges said the extension provided a vibrant juxtaposition between old and new.
Pallant House was built in 1713 by Richard “Lisbon” Peckham whose, wealth came from the Portuguese wine trade. The architect is not known.
Peckham was also a Tory politician and some people thought as a result he must be associated with the Jacobite cause.
In order to assure royalists of his loyalty, he had the royal coat of arms placed on the keystone of the building .
But MacDougall says he would not have been presumed to be a rebel in a county like Sussex staunchly supporting the Anglican Church.
An unusual feature is the birds in the gateway which have led to the building being nicknamed Dodo House, although some people in the city say they are ostriches.
- Chichester Then And Now by Philip MacDougall (The History Press, £12.99.
- Pallant House is open to the public and hosts regular exhibitions. There is an admission charge. It is a short walk from bus stops and the railway station. Visit www.pallant.org.uk
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